Embracing ‘little’ distractions in times of disorder

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Holly Powers

If Stone's free periods line up with her sister's nap time, she will usually join her for the nap.

Mattilynn Stone, Photographer and Illustration Editor

Mathew Kammrath
Kammrath’s two children doing a quarantine science experiment.
Marrianne Van Brummelen
Van Brummelen’s three boys out on a rainy day science exploration.

In the midst of our world’s current pandemic, life has been uprooted in every way possible, from online school to stay-at-home orders. After the dorms were closed, I moved back in with my family. Little did I know that I would be worrying about things like child care as a high schooler. 

In many of my classes I have had my little sister Gillian, who is almost three, sitting on my lap. Sometimes she’s coloring, playing with a stuffed animal or has just woken up from a nap and wants “snuggles.” While most responses from teachers and classmates have been positive, I have gotten a response or two I wasn’t expecting. I had a teacher ask me in front of my peers if my sister was a distraction. To be frank, of course having a three-year-old on my lap during class is a distraction, but it’s not a distraction I chose to have. She’s not a phone; she’s a child. 

I didn’t realize until then, how hard it is to have younger siblings or children at home and no childcare while working or attending school full time. In my family, we take turns watching the littles. Whenever it is my turn, I really do enjoy the company of my little sister. As stressful as school may be and however tired I am, she puts a smile on my face and makes sitting through another class that much easier. 

There is no immediate solution – an iPad or a TV show or some toys can only hold little kids’ attention for so long. In the words of Upper School math teacher Marrianne Van Brummelen, who has three children, Finn (almost 8), Cole (6), and Chase (almost 4),, “They still need help with a lot of things. They’ve learned to be more independent – which is great! – but at their age they still need and want a parent’s attention and affection.” 

Not all kids are independent and able to entertain themselves for long periods of time. Director of College Counseling Adam Gimple, father of two, Maggie (5) and Gavin (3) said, “My son is a pretty self-reliant kid, he’s really good with playing with his matchbox cars and whatnot. We are really lucky in that regard. It’s been pure dumb luck that it’s been as managable as it has been.” 

  While we are in a pandemic and things are incredibly stressful, instead of looking at the lack of childcare as an overall burden, see it as a small blessing. Mathew Kammrath, dean for class of 2023, co-director of Ethical Leadership, and Upper School math teacher, and father of two (6 and 3) said the most enjoyable part of teaching at home with his children around is the fact that it reminds him to keep everything in perspective. 

“I am fortunate to have a healthy family, still have a job I enjoy, and no problems with food or technology. Others are not as fortunate or  are putting themselves on the front line of this crisis. The kids recognize that we’re doing ok and remind me to stay connected to the people I love,” Kammarath said.

Gimple shared for him that it’s the naivete of the children and their energy and enthusiasm. “I was in a meeting at lunch.  It wasn’t a super serious meeting and we had a pause and my kids showed up and immediately the mood was lifted a little bit because life’s a little simpler with them.” 

Van Brummelen told a story that only highlights the difficulties and humorousness of mixing parenting and teaching from home. She said,   “I was in the middle of class when two of my boys came running in saying their youngest brother had gotten hurt. I excused myself and ran to check on Chase and figure out what had happened. Turns out, the boys had been fighting, and Chase bit Finn, badly,  so Finn sat on Chase.” She continued to narrate the bedlam, “Here I am, mediating their fight, comforting Chase, telling Finn to ice his bite mark, and I realize I still had my wireless headphones in! I have no idea what my students heard, but if they could still hear me, I imagine it was pretty funny.”

If you are a student or a teacher and someone’s sibling or a teacher’s kid wanders into your virtual class, instead of being frustrated or annoyed with the “distraction” try to remember they are just innocent little humans, who can be quite funny and loving if you just pay a little bit of attention. 

Van Brummelen said, “I’ve enjoyed sharing that part of my life with my students; unless they eat dinner in the dining hall, my students might not know me as a mom.  I’ve similarly enjoyed seeing or hearing my students’ siblings or parents pop up once in a while.  Though we are apart, we are gaining a window into each other’s lives that broadens how we see each other and hopefully increases the empathy we have for one another.”